Conducting research in another country has been rewarding and eye-opening. I have been able to learn so much from the parents, healthcare professionals, and community members I have interviewed. They have shared rich stories about overcoming the challenges of taking care of children with developmental disabilities, heartbreaking tales of neglect and abuse of some of the children, and they have shared a hope and optimism that the future will bring understanding and acceptance of children with developmental disabilities. It was important for me to come to Ghana with a listening ear and open mind so that I could learn from the Ghanaians and find ways to teach them in a way that they would be most receptive to. Hearing the stories they willingly shared was a confirmation that my research is needed and will help make a difference. By interviewing local community members, I was able to understand the situation a little better and make informed recommendations for community education classes.
After transcribing and rereading the interviews, I was able to narrow down the topics for education classes that my partner organization, Behavior Services Abroad, can implement in Ghana. The classes are: 1) Causes and types of disabilities, 2) The humanity of developmentally disabled children and common misconceptions in Ghana, 3) Sharing experiences from families who have children with developmental disabilities, 4) How to care for children with developmental disabilities and what resources are available, and 5) How the community can support children with developmental disabilities and their families. Many of the interview participants suggested that we use community gatherings, also known as debas, to teach the community members. These community gatherings already happen on a regular basis and many community members attend and share the information with their neighbors. For Ghana, this will be the most efficient way to teach the community members about children with developmental disabilities.
My research project was small and I am only one researcher, but the knowledge I have gained in Ghana through my interviews is one step towards changing the misconceptions and stigma that children with developmental disabilities face there. Implementing culturally tailored education classes to teach community members how to understand and accept these children will be critical to change those misconceptions. Change won’t happen overnight and it may take years, but change is coming and this research will make a difference and help make that change a reality.